Today is April 20th, or 4-20, as marijuana legalization proponents like to say. More than half of the states have passed some form of legalization, usually by popular vote. Eight states have legalized recreational marijuana, again by popular vote. It is an astounding development in my lifetime, as the concept of legalization was quite radical little more than two decades ago.
I’ve been interested in how state legalization impacts noncitizens, since immigration is my area of law practice. Washington State and Colorado were the first to legalize recreational marijuana, back in 2012, and I knew this would present issues at the border, eventually. It seems now the issues are also coming up at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State’s consulates abroad.
I periodically speak and write on this topic. I am very pleased to say that this month the American Bar Association published an article I wrote, entitled “Marijuana and Immigration,” in its Criminal Justice magazine. I also received a Freedom of Information Act request back this past week, from USCIS, on its policies concerning legalized marijuana. The pdf is over 1700 pages, but 1500 pages or so are redacted. We will appeal.
The issues continue to develop, and, unfortunately, most of the news is not good for noncitizens. DHS Secretary Kelly and Attorney General Sessions say they want to crack down on marijuana. The specifics are lacking, but I am hearing some tough reports. These include:
-Adjustment of status applications being denied for spouses of U.S. citizens, because they worked for marijuana dispensary in a marijuana-legal state.
-Naturalization application denied to a permanent resident of over 10 years, because they worked in the marijuana industry in Colorado, a fully legalized state
-Denial of entry in many cases to the U.S., for admitting to having used marijuana at some undisclosed point in the past, in a foreign or U.S. jurisdiction where it was known to be illegal. No conviction is required–just a voluntary admission to a border officer, medical examiner, consular official, or other government worker. A lot of people, including former presidents, have admitted to as much in the past, and publicly. Once denied admission, a waiver must be obtained from CBP’s Admissibility Review Office, for life. Canadians have a $585 filing fee. The waiver takes months to adjudicate.
-More bad news: reportedly, they are not necessarily going to grant the waiver. We’ve just started to hear of denials for these types of circumstances.
-Also, the word on the west coast is the local ports of entry will not admit anyone working in the industry. Of course, this means accountants, who may also have other non-marijuana clients; scientists who need to test products; architects for greenhouses; and the list of professionals can go on. This is of course a multi-million dollar industry, which indeed, pays taxes, even if the standard deductions aren’t available.
-I don’t expect Consulates to issue investor visas for the industry.
The federal government is anything but transparent on these issues. The state governments need to get vocal, and force the issues, so that travel and business can be predictable. Legislators in legalized states need to fight for these businesses and opportunities, because right now at the administrative level, things are not going well for the industry or noncitizens. There is a basic lack of justice and fairness, as persons think they are ok by being truthful and are in compliance with state laws, but the federal government is playing “gotcha” with good people.